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Volume 90, Issue 88
Wednesday, March 12, 1997
Soundwaves: A kinder, gentler rodeo
Greg Keelor's first solo effort is not as hook-laden as his work with Blue Rodeo. At least, not at first listen.
At the onset, Gone seems to churn in first gear, each song melding into the next, meandering along without any particular mission. But soon Keelor's slow, acoustic shuffles and husky-baritone delivered lyrics augmented throughout almost the entire album by the angelic singing and piano stylings of Sarah McLachlan begin to make perfect sense.
The sparse, snail-paced opener, "When I See You" begins an upward climb, as the tracks become faster paced, peaking with "White Marble Ganesh." The latter song was inspired by Keelor's meeting with the real-life guru, an encounter which serves as one of the main influences, both lyrically and musically, on Gone. His other inspirational influences include a 10-foot fall off a ladder resulting in Keelor's onset of diabetes and the discovery that he was adopted.
Consequently, Gone is a sombre piece of work. If there is any question it's whether the album is as catchy as Blue Rodeo, while there is no question Gone is not as upbeat. That is ironic, considering Keelor has traditionally been the rock impetus behind Blue Rodeo.
Nevertheless, perhaps primarily because of personal experience, Keelor's solo effort is for the most part, an exercise in quiet, bittersweet melody. The haunting power of "Redemption," where Keelor wonders if any kind of salvation is really possible, slides nicely into "All Our Heroes," a song which speaks about the contradictions between real-life role models and the comic book variety.
The album's two truly sparse tracks serve as distinct parts which combine to complete the whole of Gone. Against just a quiet piano, Keelor croons of escape in the album's title track, while in "Home," Keelor sings in a Gaelic tone about the power of one's roots. Canada's east coast, Keelor recently discovered, is his real birthplace and Keelor sings this song under his birth name of Francis McIntyre.
Gone closes with a cover of Talking Heads' "Heaven" a song that despite its foreign origins, seems right in place on Gone. And that is fitting, since Gone shares a common feature with much of Talking Heads' work. At first both seem to just exist, but after a few listens you have to wonder how you ever missed their brilliance.
I recently had the chance to see the legendary Kodo Drummers of Japan in concert in Toronto. Wow. Absolute visceral power. The show was part of the Drummers' promotional tour for their new CD IBUKI and I must admit I was skeptical about the limits of a recording after seeing the live show.
The Kodo group is steeped in tradition. Thousands of young Japanese boys pledge the leaders of the group to be admitted each year and only a few are chosen. The lucky few must then leave their home in favour of a remote island and undergo a rigorous mental and physical regime. There are still no guarantees they will ever get to play in the illustrious group as their skill is constantly tested.
They play countless varieties of the taiko drum, each with its one distinct voice. In Japanese characters, the word "kodo" has two meanings. Read one way it means heartbeat. The first rhythm. Read a different way it means "children of the drum."
The fourth Kodo disc and the only one I have heard, IBUKI is simply one of the best CDs I have ever experienced. The disc starts with a gentle pattering, a single drummer alone with his instrument. The beat quickly swells to a thunder as anywhere from one to 30 players alternately play their own rhythms and mimic what the lead drummer is doing. The effect is mesmerizing.
Sparingly used throughout the disc are various chants, yells, hand claps, environmental sounds and clanging. Producer Bill Laswell (who's done everything from Peter Gabriel to hip hop to Motorhead) makes sure they don't interfere with the feature presentation.
With such amazing players, it might be easy to assume any producer could come in and achieve an acceptable recording. Bill Laswell again uses his amazing art of subtlety and minimalism to achieve sounds as big as the national deficit. Laswell is a genius when it comes to tempo and cadence. I suspect even he might have been overwhelmed with the power of these players.
If you are a smidgen interested in percussion, or music for that matter, you must hear Kodo. Then go see them live. Nothing compares. Astounding stuff.
Reviewing discs like September 67 must be part of the devil's job description. It's not that Lucky Shoe is a problem at all. Au contraire, it's a delight. But it takes eclecticism to such a degree that it is a challenge to describe this disc or even find something comparable.
The female duo that comprises the month/year moniker of this album, tackle all of it folk, fuzz-guitar pop, country and a bit of jazz. There's even a snatch of a samba near the album's end.
What makes Lucky Shoe such a delight is September 67 avoids turning this into a musical pony trick. Rather, the band uses whatever seems necessary to make the songs work, genre be damned. As such, a pedal steel pops up in the same song as a mellotron, not to mention a drum machine. Ditto for a liberal sprinkling of cellos and mandolins on occasion. Yet as cluttered as that might sound, Lucky Shoe is a musically sparse album, delicate even.
What puts the record over the top (or rather under the top) is the sense of daring and playfulness that permeates Lucky Shoe. The album is also a fine collection of wistful, melancholy songs that reverberate in the cerebellum days after you hear them.
Of course, it helps that the disc is co-produced by Cracker's resident eccentric, David Lowery. This is too understated to be a Cracker disc. However, it might be one the band wishes it could release.
It's ironic really when you consider it. The success of sophomoric tripe like Jewel has opened the door a little wider for female pop/ folk artists. And yet it's more likely than not, that an act and album as fine as September 67's Lucky Shoe will get lost in the shuffle. This album is a gentle, simple pleasure. But sometimes simple pleasures are the ones you return to most often. Don't let this one slip by.
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